Memories of Midwestern Blizzards

| 3/2/2015 11:08:00 AM

Renee-Lucie BenoitThose of us who grew up on the Great Plains all have stories of the blizzards we have experienced. Most of us take them for granted because we have been through so many. I've been thinking a lot about this because of the outrageous weather the eastern part of America has been experiencing.

But what was it like in Gramma's day when there were no national televised weather reports or even radio? Even when radios were widespread they still didn't have good weather prediction tools. Just think of how easy it is since the advent of radar then Doppler radar then computers to tell what we might be in for. Imagine how it might be if you really didn't have any idea what the weather might be that day when you woke up. All you could do was look up and smell the air, or look at the clouds, or feel the wind. You might only have an idea what the day might bring but maybe not even that.

I looked around and found that the word "blizzard" actually originated on the Great Plains during the mid–19th century. They think it might have been derived from the German word "blitzartig," which means lightning-like. And for any of you who have experienced how fast a blizzard can come on and how powerful it is you might agree that this is just about right.

I was born in Illinois in 1950 and grew up in Iowa. We had blizzards all the time, but when I was young there were radar predictions and later on Doppler radar that had both been developed out of discoveries made during WWII. My mother and grandmother talked about their experiences when there were no prediction tools.

The people who suffered the most from unexpected weather changes were unprepared hunters, ranchers and thousands of cattle in the open country. But people in town suffered, too. There was a story of a boy who died trying to reach a print shop one block away from his home. Another man froze to death in a light linen overcoat with a flyer in his pocket advertising Kansas as the "Italy of America." A young woman became separated from her family on a half-mile journey and died within an arm's length of the door of her brother's house, her hands tangled in her hair.

Maybe one of the worst blizzards in American history was the Children's Blizzard, so called because of the large number of children that died. A really great book, "The Children's Blizzard" by David Laskin, goes into great detail of this awful event. Here I paraphrase some anecdotes from the book.

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